Collection ID: MSS027
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Organization of American Historians and Organization of American Historians
The Organization of American Historians (OAH) was founded in 1907 under the name the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (MVHA). The founders created a historical organization that encouraged research and study of the area that made up the Mississippi Valley. In 1913 it began to sponsor a scholarly journal, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. The organization eventually outgrew its brand name as a regional association by gaining members throughout the country. The organization officially changed its name to the Organization of American Historians in 1965. Today, the OAH is a national organization with a worldwide membership promoting American history research.
227 cubic feet (187 cartons, 34 document boxes, 13 flat boxes, 73 optical discs, 70 floppy disks, 36 rolls of microfilm, 15 audio cassettes, 2 videotapes)
English .
Preferred citation:

Organization of American Historians Records, 1906-2019, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.


Biographical / Historical:

The Organization of American Historians (OAH), originally the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (MVHA), was founded in 1907 through the efforts of seven men:

  • William S. Bell, Montana Historical and Misc. Library
  • Edgar R. Harlan, Historical Department of Iowa
  • George W. Martin, Kansas State Historical Society
  • Clarence S. Paine, Nebraska State Historical Society
  • Francis A. Sampson, State Historical Society of Missouri
  • Benjamin F. Shambaugh, State Historical Society of Iowa
  • Warren Upham, Minnesota Historical Society.
Its purpose was to encourage research and study of the history of the Mississippi Valley and to provide a means of communication among the secretaries of historical societies. The Nebraska State Historical Society was chosen as the headquarters and Clarence Paine was elected as the first secretary-treasurer. Membership was based on payment of dues, governed by an Executive Committee, and mainly open to heads of historical societies and professional historians in academic institutions. The organization was created with the idea that it would be open only to those active in the profession within the regional parameters of the Mississippi Valley. It sponsored annual meetings for members and created a scholarly journal for research publications. In 1913, a board of editors was selected to oversee the production of the first issue of The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, and the organization was incorporated in Nebraska in 1914.

In 1916 Clarence Paine died, leaving the organization in a state of transition. Although the election of his widow, Clara Paine, as the secretary-treasurer of the organization was controversial because she was a woman and not a historian, Clara ran the organization effectively, and her legacy to the organization extended beyond her 36 years as secretary-treasurer. During this period the ties to historical societies began to diminish and the idea that non-professional historians should be included in the organization's membership emerged. In charge of membership, finances, and the general operation of the office, Clara helped to establish the organization as a reputable force in the field of American history.

Ill health led to Clara's resignation in 1952. What followed was a period of change for the organization that lasted through the 1970s. An interim secretary-treasurer found guilty of mishandling funds, a name change for the organization and its journal, a debate over using the organization as an instrument for social reform, and the relocation of the organization to Utah with its secretary-treasurer, William Aeschbacher, all signaled what would become a period of landmark changes within the organization. One of the greatest debates in the organization's history entered in the 1950s just prior to Clara's retirement. For many years, the boundaries of the organization gradually stretched beyond the Mississippi Valley and many members were finding it difficult for their institutions to fund trips to a regional organization's annual meeting. Many felt it time to officially recognize the national character of the organization and that a name change was the appropriate action. Clara and other members forcefully argued against the change and worked for its defeat. In 1964, the name of the journal officially changed to The Journal of American History to acknowledge its national audience. The organization soon followed with the change from the Mississippi Valley Historical Association to the Organization of American Historians in 1965, signifying its emergence as a national organization.

In the beginning, the organization's headquarters moved with secretary-treasurer. When William Aeschbacher began his tenure in 1956, he was head of the Nebraska Historical Society, but the OAH moved with him to Utah when he changed positions. Its time in Utah lasted only as long as Aeschbacher was secretary-treasurer. In 1969, the position of secretary-treasurer was divided into two separate entities, with Aeschbacher as treasurer and David Miller as executive secretary. After some discussion, the organization relocated in 1970 to the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, with Thomas Clark as its executive secretary. The organization continues to reside in Bloomington.

Throughout the 1970s the organization moved beyond its academic and educational focus to involvement in political issues. Civil rights entered into discussions as the organization's membership became more racially diverse. Annual meetings raised difficult questions because many hotels would not provide the same accommodations for the African-American membership as the white membership. In some cases, they were not received in the hotels at all. The organization responded with a board decision to use only hotels that allowed all members the same privileges. Women's rights became another political arena for the organization when it entered into the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) with letters, resolutions, and a convention boycott of states that had not passed the ERA. The organization elected its first female executive director, Joan Hoff-Wilson, in 1981. The OAH's involvement with the formation of the National Coordinating Council for the Promotion of History (NCC) secured its place in the political arena and the NCC became the lobbying tool for its member organizations.

Today, the Organization of American Historians is active in the field of American history through its wide variety of programs and activities. OAH programs encompass areas like education, preservation, history standards, publishing, awards, and other initiatives. Although the importance of history education in schools was always a key issue for the organization, the OAH has recently responded to the need to emphasize history at the primary and secondary levels of education. As a result, the organization became involved in National History Day, the setting of national history standards, the publication of resources for elementary and high school history teachers such as the Magazine of History, and a focus on teaching day at the annual conference.

The OAH continues to support and promote scholarship, research, and access to documents in the field of American History. The organization's staff has grown considerably from the small office of one at the Nebraska Historical Society to a vast array of individuals helping meet the mission and goals of the organization. The annual meeting (the organization's main source of income along with membership dues) brings together historians nationwide. The OAH now has three major publications: The Journal of American History contains scholarly work; The OAH Magazine of History that focuses on teachers and educators; and the OAH Newsletter that provides information about the organization's current endeavors. The OAH also continues to support several awards, programs, and advocacy at all levels of government.

Organizational Structure An executive board headed by the OAH president and administered by the executive director governs the organization. The president of OAH is elected annually by the membership and has the responsibilities of chief operating officer, as well as presiding at official meetings and appointing committees. General charge over the affairs of the organization falls to the executive board. This body is responsible for calling and conducting meetings, supervising business affairs, and overseeing the publication program. Its decisions affect the direction of the organization. The executive director (formerly executive secretary and secretary-treasurer) of the OAH plays a key role in its daily business operations while also developing and managing the programs of the organization under the direction of the executive board. The board appoints the executive director and treasurer. During the organization's residence in Bloomington, its staff size has expanded to over a dozen personnel to carry out its mission "to promote teaching and scholarship about the history of the United, both before and after its formation as a nation-state".

While the executive office manages publications such as the OAH Newsletter and the Magazine of History, the editorial office produces the organization's main scholarly publication, The Journal of American History (JAH). Historically, the organization's editorial and executive offices have maintained separate locations because traditionally the offices would relocate when a new executive director or editor was appointed. The editor, like the executive director, is appointed by the OAH Board of Directors and is advised by an editorial board also appointed by the OAH Board. These two factors have helped both offices develop into separate entities. In 1963 the editorial office moved to Bloomington, Indiana when Oscar Winther became editor. When OAH moved to Bloomington in 1970, the offices continued to remain separate.

Past Officers of OAH Presidents

  • Francis A. Sampson (1907)
  • Thomas M. Owen (1907-1908)
  • Clarence W. Alvord (1908-1909)
  • Orin G. Libby (1909-1910)
  • Benjamin F. Shambaugh (1910-1911)
  • Andrew C. McLaughlin (1911-1912)
  • Reuben G. Thwaites (1912-1913)
  • James A. James (1913-1914)
  • Isaac J. Cox (1914-1915)
  • Dunbar Rowland (1915-1916)
  • Frederic L. Paxson (1916-1917)
  • St. George L. Sioussat (1917-1918)
  • Harlow Lindley (1918-1919)
  • Milo M. Quaife (1919-1920)
  • Chauncey S. Boucher (1920-1921)
  • William E. Connelley (1921-1922)
  • Solon J. Buck (1922-1923)
  • Eugene C. Barker (1923-1924)
  • Frank H. Hodder (1924-1925)
  • James A. Woodburn (1925-1926)
  • Otto L. Schmidt (1926-1927)
  • Joseph Schafer (1927-1928)
  • Charles W. Ramsdell (1928-1929)
  • Homer C. Hockett (1929-1930)
  • Louise P. Kellogg (1930-1931)
  • Beverley W. Bond, Jr. (1931-1932)
  • John D. Hicks (1932-1933)
  • Jonas Viles (1933-1934)
  • Lester B. Shippee (1934-1935)
  • Louis Pelzer (1935-1936)
  • Edward E. Dale (1936-1937)
  • Clarence E. Carter (1937-1938)
  • William O. Lynch (1938-1939)
  • James G. Randall (1939-1940)
  • Carl F. Wittke (1940-1941)
  • Arthur C. Cole (1941-1942)
  • Charles H. Ambler (1942-1943)
  • Theodore C. Blegen (1943-1944)
  • William C. Binkley (1944-1946)
  • Herbert A. Kellar (1946-1947)
  • Ralph P. Bieber (1947-1948)
  • Dwight L. Dumond (1948-1949)
  • Carl C. Rister (1949-1950)
  • Elmer Ellis (1950-1951)
  • Merle E. Curti (1951-1952)
  • James L. Sellers (1952-1953)
  • Fred A. Shannon (1953-1954)
  • Walter P. Webb (1954-1955)
  • Edward C. Kirkland (1955-1956)
  • Thomas D. Clark (1956-1957)
  • Wendell H. Stephenson (1957-1958)
  • William T. Hutchinson (1958-1959)
  • Frederick Merk (1959-1960)
  • Fletcher M. Green (1960-1961)
  • Paul W. Gates (1961-1962)
  • Ray A. Billington (1962-1963)
  • Avery O. Craven (1963-1964)
  • John W. Caughey (1964-1965)
  • George E. Mowry (1965-1966)
  • Thomas C. Cochran (1966-1967)
  • Thomas A. Bailey (1967-1968)
  • C. Vann Woodward (1968-1969)
  • Merrill Jensen (1969-1970)
  • David M. Potter (1970-1971)
  • Edmund S. Morgan (1971-1972)
  • T. Harry Williams (1972-1973)
  • John Higham (1973-1974)
  • John Hope Franklin (1974-1975)
  • Frank Freidel (1975-1976)
  • Richard Leopold (1976-1977)
  • Kenneth M. Stampp (1977-1978)
  • Eugene D. Genovese (1978-1979)
  • Carl N. Degler (1979-1980)
  • William A. Williams (1980-1981)
  • Gerda Lerner (1981-1982)
  • Allan G. Bogue (1982-1983)
  • Anne Firor Scott (1983-1984)
  • Arthur S. Link (1984-1985)
  • William E. Leuchtenburg (1985-1986)
  • Leon F. Litwack (1986-1987)
  • Stanley N. Katz (1987-1988)
  • David Brion Davis (1988-1989)
  • Louis R. Harlan (1989-1990)
  • Mary Frances Berry (1990-1991)
  • Joyce Appleby (1991-1992)
  • Lawrence W. Levine (1992-1993)
  • Eric Foner (1993-1994)
  • Gary B. Nash (1994-1995)
  • Michael Kammen (1995-1996)
  • Linda K. Kerber (1996-1997)
  • George M. Fredrickson (1997-1998)
  • William H. Chafe (1998-1999)
  • David Montgomery (1999-2000)
  • Kenneth T. Jackson (2000-2001)
  • Darlene Clark Hine (2001-2002)
  • Ira Berlin (2002-2003)
  • Jacquelyn Hall (2003-2004)
  • James O. Horton (2004-2005)
  • Vicki L. Ruiz (2005-2006)
  • Richard White (2006-2007)
  • Nell Irvin Painter (2007-2008)
  • Pete Daniel (2008-2009)
  • Elaine Tyler May (2009-2010)
  • David A. Hollinger (2010-2011)
  • Alice Kessler-Harris (2011-2012)
  • Albert M. Camarillo (2012-2013)
  • Alan M. Kraut (2013-2014)
  • Patricia Limerick (2014-2015)
  • Jon Butler (2015-2016)
  • Nancy F. Cott (2016-2017)
  • Clarence S. Paine (1907-1916)
  • Clara S. Paine (1916-1952)
  • James C. Olson (1953-1956)
  • William Aeschbacher (1956-1969)
Executive Secretaries/Directors
  • David Miller (1970)
  • Thomas Clark (1970-1973)
  • Richard Kirkendall (1973-1981)
  • Joan Hoff-Wilson (1981-1989)
  • Arnita A. Jones (1990-1999)
  • Lee Formwalt (1999- 2009)
  • Katherine M. Finley (2010- )
  • William Aeschbacher (1969-1976)
  • Robert K. Murray (1977-1984)
  • Cullom Davis (1984-1993)
  • Gale Peterson (1993-2003)
  • Robert W. Cherny (2003-2008)
  • Robert Griffith (2008-2010)
  • Jay S. Goodgold (2011- )
Mississippi Valley Historical Review Editors
  • Benjamin F. Shambaugh (1908-1914)—(Proceedings)
  • Clarence W. Alvord (1914-1923)—(Proceedings)
  • Lester B. Shippee (1923-1924)
  • Milo M. Quaife (1924-1930)
  • Arthur C. Cole (1930-1941)
  • Louis Pelzer (1941-1946)
  • Wendell H. Stephenson (1946-1953)
  • William C. Binkley (1953-1963)
  • Oscar O. Winther (1963-1964)
Journal of American History Editors
  • Oscar O. Winther (1964-1966)
  • Martin Ridge (1966-1978)
  • Lewis Perry (1978-1984)
  • Paul Lucas (1984-1985)
  • David Thelen (1985-1999)
  • Joanne Meyerowitz (1999-2004)
  • Edward T. Linenthal (2005-2016)
  • Benjamin H. Irvin (August 2017- )

Scope and Content:

The records of the Organization of American Historians are extensive and provide an in-depth look at the history and evolution of the organization. Although records such as board minutes and conference proceedings have small gaps, they provide the best overview of the organization. The collection also shows of the growth of the organization from a small, one-person office to an office environment employing several individuals. Executive Board Records, 1907-2016 Consist of minutes, reports, administrative records, a newsletter, committees, past president files, legal information, and correspondence all dealing with the organization's executive board. This series has five main areas: Administrative Files, Committees, Correspondence, Meetings, and Past President. The meeting minutes are the best resource for obtaining a broad overview of the organization. The least amount of documentation is available during the 1920s-1940s, but some information about decisions affecting the organization is located in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review.

The Administrative Files contain the articles of incorporation, constitution, bylaws, and executive secretary reports to the board. A brief newsletter, the Board Bulletin, 1991-1996, kept board members informed about OAH Executive Office activities. Board correspondence includes the writings of individual board members and the executive director discussing major activities and future directions of the organization.

Committees form the largest portion of this record series. The material is divided into four sections: awards, service, standing, and joint committees with other organizations. These records contain correspondence, reports, and minutes from the various committees and indicate the long-term goals and projects of the OAH. More information about specific projects is in the subject files of the Executive Office. Although information about the Membership Committee is located in this series, membership lists are maintained by the office of the treasurer and are located in the Treasurer Files. Past president Files contain mostly biographical information. Included are histories, brief overviews, and correspondence.

Executive Office, 1906-2017 These records best reflect the growth of the organization. They are produced by the main administrative office of the organization and document most of its activities. This series includes material from the executive director.

There are two distinct sets of correspondence. The alphabetical correspondence is arranged by year and then the person with whom the director is corresponding. Between 1906 and 1953, the organization maintained a staff of one (the director) and the correspondence for these years is the only record of the activities of the executive office. This correspondence reflects all of the roles the director fulfilled in the office as well as their own personal correspondence with individuals and organizations. After 1953 the organization and its staff expanded. Between 1953 and 1969, James Olson and William Aeschbacher each served as director. While the alphabetical correspondence continues to document the activities in the executive office, the directors maintain their own personal records located in the Past Directors subseries. Following 1969, as the organization continued to undergo major administrative change, the alphabetical correspondence remains a source of information about the activities of the executive office, but programs and further information about occurrences during a director's tenure may be found in the subject files.

The daily correspondence files cover the years 1984-1999 and overlap some with the alphabetical correspondence. It is arranged chronologically by the date sent or received. Although the information within these files do not duplicate the alphabetical files, they represent different filing systems. To fully understand the years contained in the files both sets of correspondence files as well as the subject files should be consulted. The final and largest set of records in this area is the subject files. As the organization grew, it became more involved in new programs, added personnel, and became politically active. The subject files cover this wide range of activities and represent the program side of the organization.

The Past Director subseries includes the correspondence files of three executive directors: James Olson, William Aeschbacher, and Thomas Clark. These files contain correspondence with specific individuals about program activities and is an excellent resource to understand each directors' goals and programs. To receive a more complete view of the happenings in the organization during these directors' tenures, the alphabetical correspondence should also be consulted.

Publications include the OAH Newsletter and the Magazine of History. The files contain correspondence regarding the publication of these resources and incomplete sets of both the magazine and newsletter, as well as other publications from the executive office.

Editorial Office, 1907-2017 Includes the records of the Journal of American History, editorial board minutes, correspondence, awards, reports, editor files, accepted manuscripts, and copies of the journal. The main administrative functions of this office are covered in the editorial board, awards, and correspondence files. They contain a good overview of the office's activities and in the instance of the correspondence files, 1930-1992, cover a vast time period and document the evolution of the journal. The editorial office publishes The Journal of American History (JAH), the scholarly journal of the OAH. Within the journal records are a nearly-complete set of print copies and an incomplete set of microfilm copies of the publication. Also included is correspondence with the executive office regarding the publication of the JAH. The journal is available online through Oxford Academic Journals (, and the History Cooperative ( The accepted manuscripts include copies of the earliest version of the article (if available), peer reviews, and correspondence related to reviews. Our records do not include complete manuscript files prior to1955 or the last five years of material. Access to the manuscript files is governed by a restriction policy.

Annual Meeting, 1908-2019 This series contains an incomplete set of the programs and business meeting minutes from the annual OAH meeting. More information about the annual meeting is located in the Journal of American History records as published proceedings that include papers presented and meeting minutes. There is also information concerning the annual meeting in the Executive Office Subject Files.

Treasurer Files, 1907-2015 Contain audits, correspondence, budgets, membership information, and reports from the office of the treasurer of the OAH. The two major reports in this series are the membership and treasurer reports. Much of this information is incomplete, but can be used with the executive board minutes to construct an accurate picture of the organization's financial status throughout its history. The membership information includes the card files and membership lists used to track member names, addresses, and years in the organization. This series also includes the financial ledgers maintained by the treasurer that indicated the names of both individual and institutional members and the amount paid during a particular year. The member cards and ledgers only cover the period of the beginning of the organization through the early 1960s, the period of the combined Secretary-Treasurer position. This series also contains the correspondence of individual treasurers that includes information about their role as treasurer and involvement in committee work.

Photographs, 1907-2002 This series contains photographs of the presidents, executive secretaries, treasurers, secretary-treasurers, chairmen of the board, and editors of OAH. There are also copies of images used in issues of the JAH.

Audio/Visual Material, 1963-2004 Includes microfilm, audio cassettes, and videotapes related to the OAH. The largest portion is the microfilm containing portions of the JAH.

Media, 1948-2011 Contains optical discs (primarily CDs) and floppy disks related to material from the OAH. Many CDs contain material from Magazine of History issues and projects conducted in collaboration with the National Park Service. The floppy disks include backups of articles from the JAH and the OAH Newsletter.


Presented by the Organization of American Historians, 1995.

Accessions: A95-03, A1997/98-025, A1998/99-008, A2000/01-017, A2000/01-019, A2000/01-029, A2001/02-007, A2002/03-002, A2002/03-014, A2002/03-027, A2002/03-028, A2002/03-043, A2005/06-020, A2006/07-020, A2007/08-019, A2008/09-022, A2009/10-008, A2009/10-018, A2010/11-016, A2010/11-029, A2011/12-023, A2013/14-020, A2014/15-027, A2015/16-031, A2015/16-037, A2016/17-008, A2016/17-042, A2016/17-053.

Rules or conventions:
DACS-Describing Archives: A Content Standard
General note:

Rights Statement: The text of this webpage is available for modification and reuse under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and the GNU Free Documentation License (unversioned, with no invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts).


Aeschbacher, William D. "The Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 1907-1965," The Journal of American History (September 1967), 339-353.

Constitution of the Organization of American Historians:

The Organization of American Historians website:



This collection has the following restrictions:

  1. Access to the records of the OAH Executive Office is restricted for 10 years.
  2. Journal of American History editorial correspondence and referee's evaluations written before 1979 will remain closed for the lifetime of the author unless the reviewer explicitly sanctions opening.
  3. Journal of American History evaluations written between 1979 and 1986 will remain closed for 10 years or longer in those cases where referees requested other terms.
  4. From 1986 onward each referee signs a form to indicate whether he or she is willing to let the author know his or her identity immediately or whether the evaluation shall be closed for 15 years.
Individual folders are also restricted due to Social Security Numbers and attorney-client privileged material. The rest of the collection is open to the public without restriction.


The copyright laws of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) govern the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.


Organization of American Historians Records, 1906-2019, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

IUPUI University Library
755 West Michigan Street
Room 0133
Indianapolis, Indiana 46202, United States